By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Cleveland community activists are planning to protest against what they see as the use of excessive force by city police after a review found 100 officers broke rules in a car chase in which an unarmed driver and his passenger were shot dead.
Activist Kathy Coleman told Reuters on Thursday that residents plan a rally on Monday to demand police officers involved in the chase receive appropriate punishment and the city take action against the problem of excessive force.
"People are saying some of the cops might only get a 10-day suspension," activist Kathy Coleman told Reuters. "We want them fired, prosecuted and brought to justice."
Five months after Cleveland police shot dead an unarmed driver and his passenger following a high-speed chase that involved 63 police cars, more than 100 police officers could face suspension or termination, an internal police review showed on Wednesday.
The incident, which stemmed from a routine traffic stop, aggravated public concerns over possible excessive use of force by Cleveland police officers, particularly in the city's African-American community. The pair who died were both black.
It also prompted the city's mayor, Frank Jackson, to request a review of Cleveland police procedure by the U.S. Justice Department. The federal review into a possible pattern of excessive force is ongoing.
Some 100 officers face possible suspension or termination for violations of department policy, including endangering pedestrians in the car chase and subsequent shootout that killed Timothy Russell and his passenger, Marissa Williams.
"Where we found policy and rule violations, we will hold officers accountable," said Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath on Wednesday, adding that he expected to announce individual disciplinary actions in a few weeks.
The chase stemmed from a traffic stop that Russell fled in his 1979 Chevy with Williams. As Russell drove, several officers reported hearing what they thought were multiple gunshots.
After a 25-minute chase, police trapped the car in a school parking lot and opened fire after Russell hit a police cruiser and drove in the direction of an officer. By the time it was over, 13 officers had fired 137 rounds at the car.
Subsequent searches failed to turn up a gun, and no gunshot residue was found on the car's occupants. The investigation found that the sound officers had attributed to gunshots most likely was the engine on Russell's car backfiring.
Of the 322 Cleveland police officers on duty on the day of the incident, more than a third played a role in the deadly chase, according to Cleveland Police special investigations commander James Chura.
According to the internal report, released Wednesday, many of the officers were told to disengage from the pursuit and either did not hear the command or ignored it. Some cars were also cited for not using sirens and lights while driving at speeds of 70 miles per hour in populated areas.
Another investigation into the matter by the Ohio Attorney General's Office concluded that officers had failed to follow established procedures that resulted in the department's overall failure to control the situation.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)